‘Tenet’ release delayed again by Warner Bros. amid COVID-19 spikes

"Tenet" has been delayed again by Warner Bros.
Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” has been delayed again by Warner Bros.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Warner Bros. again delayed the release of the Christopher Nolan film “Tenet” on Monday, marking the latest setback for the global movie theater industry, which has been struggling to survive closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big-budget science fiction film was previously intended for release on Aug. 12, which would’ve made it the first major studio film to hit theaters since cinemas shuttered in mid-March.

The movie originally was set to open July 17 but was pushed back into August as the coronavirus continued to spread.

Warner Bros. did not immediately disclose a new opening date for “Tenet.” The studio said it would announce a new 2020 date soon.


“Our goals throughout this process have been to ensure the highest odds of success for our films while also being ready to support our theater partners with new content as soon as they could safely reopen,” said Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich in a statement. “Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to proliferate, causing us to reevaluate our release dates.”

Analysts expected the new movie would have to change plans, given the rise in coronavirus cases in multiple parts of the U.S., including California and Florida, which has led states and counties to pump the brakes on reopening their economies.

North American box office will drop an estimated 61% from last year, as the pandemic has Hollywood studios holding off on new releases and theaters scrambling to make audiences feel safe.

The eventual debut of “Tenet” is expected to be a key benchmark for the film business’ gradual recovery.

Cinema owners have been desperate for new Hollywood films to show on their screens after months of virtually no revenue. Some indoor theaters have opened by showing primarily older films, including “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws,” but they have struggled to draw patrons. Theater operators that reopen in coming weeks will have to do so with limited seating capacity and enhanced protocols for cleaning and social distancing.

Earlier this month, National Assn. of Theatre Owners Chief Executive John Fithian said the release of new films was “existential” for the movie theater industry. “If we go a year without new movies, it’s over,” he said.

Also this month, AMC Theatres, the world’s largest film exhibitor, said it raised $300 million in new financing to help it survive the pandemic. The biggest chains, including Leawood, Kan.-based AMC, have furloughed or laid off tens of thousands of employees in order to stay afloat during the pandemic.

AMC’s stock price fell about 2% in midday trading on Monday.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, AT&T Inc.-owned Warner Bros. said it is not pursuing a traditional “day and date” global release strategy for “Tenet,” which would normally have the film open in nearly all international markets and the U.S. at roughly the same time.

The studio did not elaborate on what the new strategy would entail. Analysts expect the studio to pursue a staggered release pattern, releasing the movie only where and when it’s deemed safe to do so. That could result in the movie hitting other countries before it opens in the U.S. market, particularly in countries that have gotten a better handle on the virus crisis.

“We are not treating ‘Tenet’ like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that,” Emmerich said.

Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley FBR, predicted in a recent note to clients that studios would begin to release their movies gradually into reopened markets, rather than wait for all theaters to be open.

For a major film like “Tenet,” two-thirds of the box office is expected to come from outside the U.S.

In a sign of hope for the industry, the Chinese government just days ago allowed movie theaters to begin reopening in certain areas, with restrictions. The world’s second-largest box office market has been closed since late January.

“We are less certain that studios will wait for the perfect date to release their films — as that perfect date may never arrive,” Wold wrote. “In other words, waiting for every major market to have optimal reopening rules for movie theaters (especially around capacity limits), may end up pushing most, if not all, titles into 2021.”

Walt Disney Co.’s “Mulan” is still scheduled to be released in theaters Aug. 21, after being delayed from its original plan to launch on March 27. Analysts expect the live-action remake to also move, following the most recent “Tenet” decision.

Sony Pictures on Monday delayed its smaller film “The Broken Hearts Gallery” from Aug. 7 until a yet-to-be-determined date.

Warner Bros. also pushed the release of its horror movie “The Conjuring 3” from Sept. 11 to June 4, 2021. For now, the studio’s “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Dune” remain set for Oct. 2 and Dec. 18, respectively.